What is the rat population like on the E shore from OMSI north? I hear it is huge near the grain ship loading docks and tapers off N and S of there. While paddling a kayak in that area I occasionally see dead rats in the water and the odd live one scampering off in the rip-rap. A hazzard?
This leads me to stay South of OMSI on my paddling workouts. Too bad as the little cove behind the Esplanade would be a nice nice spot for speed work. But it's full of debris and the odd dead critter. Yuck.
I have had the opportunity to swim in the Willamette River, in downtown Portland, twice in the past year. The first time was a competitor in the City of Portland Triathlon last summer. The second time was as a participant in the Red Bull Flugtag this summer.
You'll be happy to know that I have experienced no side effects as a result of swimming in the Willamette. no side effects as a result of swimming in the Willamette. no side effects as a result of swimming in the Willamette.
In the 1960s there were 7, maybe 8 pulp mills that discharged nearly-untreated wastewater into the Willamette. Until fairly recent years, most of the mills would have shutdowns at practically the same time, during which enormous amounts of highly organic process liquors were discharged into the river, no doubt leading to lengthy periods of a quite dead river. During this period, the state board that preceded the current DEQ hardly did anything.
Could D. Drake comment on what the current situation is with respect to pulp mills, their treatment/discharge practices, and whether DEQ is really pressing industrial dischargers to further limit the pollution they discharge.
I'm currently writing my history MA thesis on early water pollution abatement efforts along the Willamette, from 1926 to 1962. This period covers the beginning of the first concerted effort to address the issue of water pollution, and ends with Tom McCall's iconic television documentary on the topic of Willamette water quality, _Pollution in Paradise_. I'll be done with the thesis in November.
One of my biggest questions is, what did the Oregon State Sanitary Authority (OSSA) accomplish between its creation by citizen initiative in 1938 and it's absorption within the Oregon DEQ in the late 1960s? I'm not quite prepared with any conclusions on this specific question, but my preliminary findings are that the OSSA was staffed by qualified and committed staff members who really did do as much as they could to abate water pollution, given their funding, statutory mandate, and the science and technology of the period.
Another key element to remember is that the mentality of just about all Americans up until the later 1960s was that some streams and rivers were most useful serving as urban and industrial waste sinks all the time, and most streams and rivers were useful as waste sinks at least some of the time. The work of water pollution abatement advocates in Oregon (and nationally) -- including the OSSA, Izaak Walton League, League of Women Voters, and others -- involved changing this mentality as much as it did in enacting appropriate laws and finding appropriate technologies.
I could write much more on this topic.
In closing, I would not swim in the Willamette except in the headwaters. Though it is DRASTICALLY more clean in 2008 than it was in 1928 or 1958, I still wouldn't swim in it.
James V. Hillegas
MA Candidate, Portland State University
above Albany one loses count of the Osprey and Blue herons - Bald Eagles have moved in over the past two years - river otters are a common sight. With these top of the food chain predators all around I have no problem swimming in the river with my kids - but don't tell anyone. However, below Newberg I would not float the river.....
The Corvallis Environmental Center and the Institute for Water and Watersheds at Oregon State University have tackled this issue in a new "Willamette River Water Quality Map." This map looks at the Oregon Water Quality Index listings throughout the Willamette, land-use information throughout the Willamette River Basin, and contains a list of point-source permittees. This map is available online at http://water.oregonstate.edu or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have swum in the Willamette as far north as Independence. I would swim at Portland, though I would be careful not to swallow much water.
There are two kinds of pollution that I would worry about. The first is biological -- disease organisms. Since the 1960s sewage discharges have been treated and disinfected. The level of treatment is reasonably good, and I have little fear of catching cholera or hepatitis from the Willamette. (However, riverside livestock pastures and animals like geese and nutria do contribute a lot of fecal coliform bacteria to the Willamette.) The second kind of pollution of concern is chemical: mercury, pesticides, spilled oils, and so forth. I would worry about drinking Willamette river water at Portland, but not so much about a few swimming trips. Incidental exposure is just not the risk that chronic and continual exposure would be.
Of course, for aquatic organisms things like the oxygen content of the water and the acidity of the river are also important -- but for human exposure they're not such a concern in the case of the Willamette.
There should be ZERO tolerance for the dumping of any sewage, farm runoff, waste or factory effluent in any river anywhere, including the Willamette.
We need to stop treating the rivers as places to dump and start seeing them as vital arteries no different from the veins in our own bodies.
Agreed. I would love to swim in the willamette and not drench myself in worry of nasty nasties in our cities closest and quite amazing river. I love my city and I treasure it's heart. Let's keep her pretty and safe for the people to play in. People like me. I swim in it. But it's still scary.
I row on the Willamette three or four times a week (and please allow me to distinguish rowing from kayaking, canoeing or dragonboating. Rowers ROW, Kayakers, canoeists and dragonboaters PADDLE). While I would never choose to swim in the river, I have inadvertently flipped my single on a snag behind Ross Island. I was not overly concerned about the unplanned swim, but I didn't spend a lot of extra time splashing around prior to getting back in my boat. I have seen my share of dead fish and such, but my gut feeling is that south of the Fremont Bridge, the water quality isn't horrendous. The area behind Ross Island has a number of snags and debris, but some of the best rowing water on the river.
Please ask your guests what they think are the largest contributors to pollution in the Willamette - especially pollutants that endanger human and environmental health. Is it industry? Sewage treatment plants? Urban runoff? Agriculture? When will we see results of the toxics monitoring DEQ is starting in the Willamette? Shouldn't toxics be part of the water quality monitoring that is typically done in Oregon?
I am fine with getting in the Willamette if I'm with friends having some crazy fun, like the Zoobomb minibike winter cupcake challenge. Riding your bike into the river is wicked awsome! And you can haul your bike out so there is no littering :-)
I'm on a dragonboat team that paddles in the Willamette. We have several nurses on our team, and after a heavy rain, when people are concerned about the water, they tell us not to worry. They tell us not drink it and to wash our hands before eating, and no one has gotten sick. The debris in the marina is kind of gross though.
I have a friend who swims in the Willamette, and no one on her team has gotten sick either. I suppose it's not great for folks with weak immune systems, but it doesn't seem to be a problem for most of us.
Paul brings up an interesting point. All large towns along the Willamette discharge treated wastewater into the Willamette. Now, sewage can be treated and -- theoretically -- cooled so that it is equivalent to spring-water. But that's expensive. How much are people in Portland, Salem, or Eugene willing to pay in order to treat the wastewater that their society generates?
So far wastewater treatment fees have not allowed treatment plants to install the very expensive equipment that would turn sewage into drinking-quality water, let alone cool it to spring-water temperature quality. There is no "easy" answer here; everything costs real money. I'm curious: how much are people, as individuals, willing to pay on a monthly basis in wastewater treatment fees?
Yes, I swim in it, and row and paddle. I was a river guide on many rivers around the US from 1989 until 2000, and have worked as a river ranger for the BLM, and have worked in river conservation in West Virginia, attempting to minimize Acid Mine Drainage.
I am new to Portland and I am very interested to hear more about specific toxins and their sources. Paper mills can be a source of dioxin: what is the dioxin content of the Willamette at Portland? Military installations are a source of perchlorate: what is the content of perchlorate? How much mercury is in there? What else is in there that might go through the skin?
The fecal matter in the river frankly does not alarm me. As long as we do not ingest it, the bacteria will not harm us. Our skin is "shitproof". And I have worked in rivers that had higher fecal coloform levels than the Willamette.
Dave, please don't censor/moderate this above post. I think it is a perfectly descriptive and appropriate use of the word.
I too swam in the Willamette as a kid in the late '60s and early '70s, and as far as I know, have suffered no ill affects. I grew up in the Milwaukie area and we used to swim at the boat ramp at the bottom of Oak Grove Blvd. almost daily in the summertime.
This is purely anecdotal, as I am not a environmental scientist, but the river seems visually as clean, or cleaner as I remember it to be almost 40 years ago. I have not had occasion to swim in the Willamette lately, but I wouldn't hesitate to do so unless there was a specific warning at the time. I will admit that I would probably be more comfortable upstream from Portland though...
Good show today. Thanks,
I live near Albany and we do paddle the river here, not much swimming for no particular reason. But, from a public health perspective, all the comments regarding people not getting acutely ill following exposure to the river are missing the boat, so to speak. Acute illness is much different than chronic effects. Judging the river on that basis is similar to saying that "well, my blood pressure is high, but I feel fine, so there must not be a problem". I don't know enough scientific facts about the river to comment on its condition, but I do know that only discussing the human exposure issues in terms of acute illness is not a very thorough assessment. We know there is chemical contamination of the river. How does that affect us after repeated exposure and what is building up in our bodies? How about different effects on children compared to adults? How do we find that info?
Sort of seems like a Portland-centric view of this discussion in a way. Going down by the river in Corvallis, I see boaters, swimmers and people floating on intertubes very often during the summer. The Willamette upstream is definitely not the same thing as the Willamette up in Portland.
I have lived in Oregon for over 50 years. I remember as a child my parents not even letting me near the water at an area south of Salem because of the wastes, especially the wastes from all the paper mills in the Albany area. I remember what a big deal it was when salmon actually came back up creeks in Salem. Though it is not pristine, I think we need to look forward, and give ourselves some credit for the progress made.
I grew up on the Willamette and am now 43 years old. We used to boat and swim in it and even then the river was very dirty and my parents used to make us shower afterwards. A combination of dead eels and raw sewage (which everyone was aware of the contamination even then) didn't seem to deter us and now the river is just as active. It's a shame that the bar is set so low for what we consider "clean" these days. There was an effort to keep certain parts of the small beachways clean called the Greenway project. I'd be interested in seeing how that project actually helped because as far as I can see, there is no change in the quality of the water. As for my vote, I wouldn't let my kids even touch the water without a thorough disinfecting regime afterwards.
When it gets really hot and fuel is tight, I'll occasionally go swimming here in Salem, though I'm usually careful to stay clear of the paper mill's old discharge area. If I have a preference, though it is the North Fork of the Santiam for me.
Some short-term concerns for swimmers should be added to those mentioned already.
1) E-coli from untreated sewage discharges into the river has a 48-hour life. 2) There are many major dischargers upstream from Portland. There is no public warning system except from Portland. 3) As well as "CSOs", remember there may be unpublicized equipment malfunctions from upstream cities' sewage treatment plants. Or pipe malfunctions, as from Lake Oswego's Lake. 4) Skin abrasions were briefly mentioned; there was also one serious case of flesh-eating bacteria publicized about two years ago, related to a leg wound in shallow water from sharp wood underwater. (My husband and I have kayaked, etc., on several rivers, but we would never go on the Willamette with abrasions or open wounds.) 5) No one should swim through sewage, industrial or other effluent discharges, but there are no warning signs except for some in Portland. Efforts to get warning signs upriver have failed, so far. 6) Drought was not a problem this year, but can increase the pollution loads. 7) Look at epa.gov/tri for listings of certain industrial discharges.
Longer-term concerns: (A) Are you all are aware that the Willamette's flow is not natural -- but is augmented by special discharges from the Corps of Engineers' dams, especially in July, August and September? This may not be possible in the future if Climate Change continues to deplete the snowpack over time.
(B) If we regard the unwholesome resident fish as "canaries in the mine," we really need to be concerned. (Documentation available.)
(C) Hope you all read Scott Learn's story in the Oregonian, Friday, Aug. 22, on page A-1. He describes a major new effort by DEQ to improve the river for fish -- and hopefully for all of us.
Incidentally, your website describes the Willamette as an "excellent water source." For many reasons including the fish problems and the outdated and inadequate EPA standards, this is an inappropriate description. Actually EPA recommends choosing the cleanest possible water source for drinking water ... and the cleanest possible source in our metropolitan area here is not the Willamette, but the Bull Run. Remember the PPCPs! Remember the endocrine disrupters! Remember the Maine! (Woops -- that's something else.)
Kathy Newcomb, research analyst for Citizens for Safe Water and others.
"(Woops -- that's something else.)"
And WHOOPS was another something Nuclear else that we need to be reminded of in these times when the Big Energy proponents are once again trying to build nuclear plants.
We used to boat and swim in it and even then the river was very dirty and my parents used to make us shower afterwards.
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